It's a plant that might just be the cure to substance abuse, and even though there are entire clinics built around it in Canada, here in the U.S. it remains both illegal and ignored.Ibogaine
is an alkaloid derived from the iboga
plant, a perennial rainforest shrub and hallucinogen native to western-central Africa. According to some former slaves to heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol and even nicotine, it also breaks the virtually endless cycle of addiction.
Canada isn't the only place where ibogaine is unregulated and available. Clinics
there, as well as in Mexico, parts of Europe and dozens of other countries offer a supervised medical setting for the use of ibogaine in addiction withdrawal.
But in America, if you're looking to try ibogaine as a potential addiction interrupter, you could wind up in even more trouble than when you started.
Under U.S. drug laws, ibogaine is listed as a Schedule 1
substance -- meaning it's considered to have high potential for abuse and no medicinal value -- right alongside well-known villains like heroin, LSD and everyone's favorite bad cousin, cannabis.
Keep reading for more on this potential panacea and find out who won't talk about it.
Junkie "Accidentally" Discovered Treatment 50 Years Ago
In the 1960s, a 19-year-old junkie from the Bronx named Howard Lotsof
"accidentally" discovered that after dosing with ibogaine, his heroin addiction disappeared. Over a period of months spanning 1962–63, Lotsof administered ibogaine to 19 individuals. Seven of them were opiate addicts attempting to get clean. All noted "an apparent effect on typical withdrawal symptomatology." Meaning they stopped jonesing
After years of securing patents and promoting ibogaine's potential, Lotsof died earlier this year with his pet project no closer to being accepted in the U.S. as a medical treatment for addiction than it was in 1962. "Super-Bondo" for an Addict's Brain
Apparently, ibogaine works -- if and when it does -- by sealing off receptors in the brain created or "switched on" by addictive substances. Nicotine, for instance, makes little dents in the surface of your brain that can only be filled in -- thus ending the craving -- by more nicotine. Think of ibogaine as super-Bondo
for an addict's brain. Years of research have convinced Dr. Kenneth Alper
, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, that the therapy is at least worth a shot.
Alper says the lack of legally available ibogaine "has led to the existence of a distinctive, unofficial network involving lay individuals conducting ibogaine treatments in nonmedical settings" -- meaning there's a black market
in America for people trying to get off dope. "Not the Kind of Thing People Do for Fun"
Funny thing is, unlike most Schedule 1 drugs, nobody considers ibogaine to be the least bit enjoyable.
"It's the not the kind of thing people do for fun, or want to do again. It's a very rough experience," said Dana Beal
, an old-school activist, advocate and Yippie party
leader who used to hang around with Jerry Rubin
and Abbie Hoffman
. "After you trip your brains out for about 10 hours, you go to this clear part where you've very energetic and no longer have ataxia
... and this clear, LSD
-like high sets in."
In that zone, addicts lose their addiction, say Beal and others. The feel-good effects of ibogaine persist for 4-12 weeks, long enough to give a junkie a jumpstart on avoiding relapse.
Says Beal, "It makes colors a little more intense and it is really serotoninergic
, so it's like Prozac every day. It's great for mood, just what a [recovering] junkie needs, actually."
So if it's not fun, and it's at least anecdotally effective -- check out this
video of people who claim to have kicked addiction with ibogaine -- why is ibogaine illegal and so tightly controlled in the U.S.?
"I don't know," Beal said. "Ask the DEA. Ask the U.S. Senate."
We did. Or tried to anyway. Senate and DEA Stonewall
Here are some of the people and places we contacted over a month to talk to about ibogaine, none of whom responded: The Betty Ford Clinic, The Hazelden Center, The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, The University of South Florida, Columbia University, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.)
The last four entries on that list are of special significance: Those senators are the ranking members of the U.S. Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs
-- the people responsible for making drug laws in the U.S. 1-in-300 Chance Your Heart Will Stop
After all we've learned, we're still not ready to declare ibogaine the ultimate panacea for addiction. Much of the evidence supporting it is anecdotal. And, administered improperly, there's a 1-in-300 chance it could stop your heart cold. Then again, so can a mammoth shot of China White
, or a walloping snort of crystal meth. Logic would seem to dictate that ibogaine is a lesser evil.
But for now, ibogaine's Schedule 1 status seems to signal that government officials and American clinical providers don't agree.